Elizabeth Austen Lawson, MD, MMSc
Photo: Elizabeth Austen Lawson



Elected 2020

Elizabeth A. Lawson is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Director of the Interdisciplinary Oxytocin Research Program in the Neuroendocrine Unit at Massachusetts Hospital (MGH), and a practicing clinician in the Neuroendocrine and Pituitary Tumor Clinical Center at MGH. She received her MD and MMSc degrees from Harvard Medical School and completed her medical residency and fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism at MGH. Dr. Lawson investigates the neurobiology of eating behavior across the weight spectrum from anorexia nervosa to obesity. A major focus of her clinical research is the neurohormone oxytocin in human physiology and pathophysiology. She has shown in men that oxytocin reduces food intake, increases fat oxidation, and improves insulin sensitivity. She also demonstrated that oxytocin reduces fMRI activation of reward-related food motivation neural pathways, increases fMRI activation of impulse control brain regions, and reduces impulsive behavior in overweight and obese men. This implies that oxytocin may reduce food intake, in part, by reducing the reward value of palatable foods and improving impulse control. These findings led to an NIDDK-funded R01 randomized clinical trial of intranasal oxytocin as a potential weight loss therapy for adults with obesity, now underway. She is also principal investigator of two NIMH R01 awards examining the interplay between oxytocin and other appetite-regulating hormones, brain circuitry and eating behavior in youth with restrictive eating disorders. In patients with hypopituitarism, Dr. Lawson has recently identified a possible oxytocin-deficient state characterized by increased psychopathology, raising the question of whether some patients with hypopituitarism could benefit from oxytocin replacement. In addition, she was recently awarded an NIMH K24 grant to mentor trainees in cross-disciplinary patient-oriented research.